Last Friday morning, you might have noticed a pretty interesting story develop. Headed up by the Steel Army out in Pittsburgh, the Old Guard Shield is an upcoming regular season tournament (think Cascadia Cup) between the Rochester Rhinos, Richmond Kickers, Harrisburg City Islanders, Charleston Battery and (obviously) the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Whoever comes out on top in head to head games will hold the inaugural Old Guard Shield, with the plan being to tour the shield around before the end of the USL season.
These clubs have rich history - not just in USL, but in American Soccer. The USL is in a weird spot with a ton of “MLS 2” sides coming in sometimes with little thought put into branding, which makes the USL feel a bit disjointed at times. Teams like Bethlehem Steel FC (sorry, biased but I think the point holds) and Swope Park Rangers have done well with being affiliates but maintaining competitiveness, some MLS clubs like the Montreal Impact literally used their “2” sides as extentions of their academy. Montreal being a weird case as FC Montreal folded after a series of extremely poor seasons.
Seeing the initial response to the Shield as well as thinking it was a really cool idea myself, I reached out to the SG’s for comment. I’ll let them talk about what this means to them.
Q: Why now? Was it the surge of “2” Sides? The “Path to MLS” Clubs? Needing a big Eastern Conference Rivalry?
A: Dan (Board Member, Steel Army [Riverhounds]Creator of OGS)- The idea came to me a little over a year ago. It was two pronged in why I wanted to see if we could make it happen. First is that USL is in a weird place with different teams with different objectives. You have teams that come in and sell themselves to fans with the prospects of a future in MLS. They get into the league with the expressed interest of getting out as soon as possible. Then you have what the clubs in the Old Guard represent. These are clubs with history and stability. The new clubs are getting a lot of attention, and they deserve all of it because they are doing amazing things, but there is a place for the old guard clubs to be celebrated and appreciated too. The second part and maybe I’m just overly sensitive to this is that there’s people who reject local soccer just because it’s not MLS. To me, this is a statement that we can be proud of our lower level teams.
A: Mike (President,Regiment[Battery])- As a long time Battery fan, I’ve seen a lot of change over the years. Gone are the days of scouring obscure forums and waiting for news reports. Now you can watch every game and keep up with your team daily. The Old Guard Shield is a testament to the fans, owners, players and front office. They have endured over the years and worked hard to ensure the survival of their clubs. The Charleston Battery is entering their 25th consecutive season. If you look at the history of soccer in North America you'll know what an achievement that is. We've been extremely lucky over the years to have owners that have invested in the clubs future. We have a professional soccer stadium in the US, a fantastic pub that is more a soccer museum that serves beer, a great preseason tournament that brings in MLS teams each year, friendlies against great clubs from England, Scotland, Mexico and more currently the huge video board/scoreboard upgrade. It’s exciting to see the direction of the league but a lot of credit is due to those that held the torch for so long.
A: Richard (Kommissar, Red Army [Kickers])- The reason I was excited about the Old Guard was that it celebrates the teams that have been part of America's soccer landscape the longest. Some of the new teams see the USL as a stepping stone for MLS but this league isn't a detour on the road to something great, it is something great. We all love our teams and the teams are an important part of our city and one of the factors that making living here great. The Old Guard has been working hard to bring quality soccer since 1993 and that is something that we as supporters and the league should celebrate.
A: Christian (Helps run the group for the most part, Flower City Fanatics [Rhinos])- Last year we were working on something with Dan because we travel to Pittsburgh and they usually come up here. When they reached out to all of the Old Guard to do a competition we were immediately on board. I think it’s an even better idea and based off reactions from the other members, they agree as well.
A: Jamie ( Co-Founder, Capital City Crew [City Islanders])- We are excited to work with the other groups involved and put a spotlight on the history of our respective clubs. This being our first year as a supporters group, we feel like this is a crucial step in forging relationships around the league.
Q: How did the club react once they found out?
A: Dan- I really don't know where their opinion is yet. We actually announced the Shield on a day that turned out to be really busy for me personally. It was scheduled to be announced at 10:00 AM, and I was able to stay around my phone until 10:15 to make sure everything pushed out properly and see some immediate feedback. After that I was away from my phone and the internet until 6 or so that evening, so it was beyond my expectations to see the countless amount of chatter the Shield generated in those first eight hours. I saw that the Hounds did send out a tweet to acknowledge it, but I haven't had a chance to speak to anyone yet. We're fortunate in Pittsburgh to have a front office that has been receptive to a lot of our ideas.
A: Richard- Nobody in the Kickers front office knew about our plans and we didn't give them any advance notice of the announcement. The response from current and past Kickers employees has been positive. Often you'll see attempts by clubs to create rivalries. Those attempts often fall flat because they aren't organic and come off as a marketing scheme to sell tickets. The Old Guard Shield doesn't have any of that baggage because it's for supporters by supporters.
A: Christian- The clubs had no prior knowledge of what was going on. At least the Rhinos didn't. I recently noticed they saw our posts and posted something congratulating us. It's not only good for our groups, but also for our teams because with the USL expanding so rapidly, we all get overlooked, even though on the pitch we are still some of the better sides on the league... It was all the SGs working together, pooling money together, to get this thing to work. No help from our clubs and that's what we wanted. Something just for us.
These guys seriously went all out. is really well done and also has a table and a blog for updated info. Also in regards to the actual Shield itself: Dan said it was coming, they’re working on finalizing the design with the artist who is creating it. And in case you’re wondering that was also paid by the SG’s as well.
Just a quick little diversion from Bethlehem Steel FC stuff for us here, but the scope of this project was pretty hard to ignore. Thoughts on the Old Guard or the concept itself? Have at it in the comments.